It has only been a few weeks since Danish loudspeaker maker Dynaudio launched its refreshed Emit range. Emit is the company’s entry level series of loudspeakers – although I should note that a Dynaudio entry level is better than top-of-the-line for quite a few other companies. There are five models in the line-up, two stand mounts, two floorstanders and a centre channel. In this review I’m looking at the Dynaudio Emit 20 stand-mount, the larger of the two stand-mount models. I’ve previously reviewed the larger floorstander, the Emit 50, here.
- Dynaudio Emit 20: stand-mount, bass reflex, two-way, two driver loudspeakers
- Heavy, solid build: each weighs 9.9kg
- 312mm tall, 206mm wide in the body and 325mm deep, including grille
- Foam bungs for tuning bass reflex port included
- 28mm “Cerotar” soft-dome tweeter with Hexis inner dome, borrowed from higher-level Evoke series
- 180mm magnesium silicate polymer cone woofer with copper voice coils
- Hybrid crossover, 1st order to tweeter, 2nd order to mid/bass driver
- Crossover frequencies at 3800 hertz
- 53-25,000 hertz ±3dB frequency response; -6dB @ 42 and 35,000 hertz
- 6 ohms nominal impedance
- 86dB sensitivity (for 2.83 volts at one metre)
- 160 watts IEC power handling
- Available in satin black, white and walnut finish
- The Dynaudio Emit 20 stand-mount loudspeakers are exceptionally fine loudspeakers. That they sell at this price is simply astonishing.
- Price: $1849 per pair
- Available at fine high fidelity retail outlets, and direct from distributor here.
A few more notes
Unlike some of Dynaudio’s higher level models, these loudspeakers are built in China. They’re still designed and engineered in Denmark, and the design was aided by using Dynaudio’s massive “Jupiter” test facility. I for one have never had a problem with a company building stuff in China … so long as it has good quality control procedures in place. The result is quality products at a lower cost to consumers. As we’ll see, the quality on these seemed very good.
The review speakers were finished in a satin black vinyl. The result is utilitarian. However the top and bottom edges are bevelled in a nice upmarket way. I think I’d probably go for the walnut finish. There’s also white for those who might like such a thing. The black cloth grilles are secured with magnets and easily removable.
As is usual for Dynaudio loudspeakers, the Emit 20 stand mount-models are lower than average in sensitivity. Which is to say, they need more power than usual to achieve a given level. My sense is that, industry-wide amongst quality loudspeakers, the average sensitivity would be around 89dB for 2.83 volts input. With these ones at 86dB, twice as much power is required for the same level. A little unusually for Dynaudio, though, these loudspeakers have a nominal impedance of 6 ohms (the Dynaudio norm is 4 ohms), which should make them easier to drive. This is particularly important for Yamaha home theatre receivers which – I’ve been complaining about this for years – don’t support four-ohm loudspeakers on any but the front left and right channels.
The enclosures are bass reflex loaded. The port is at the rear, so it’s important to leave a bit of room behind the speakers for them to “breath”. The ports feature a kind of whirly pattern on them, which seems to be designed to reduce turbulence around the mouth of the port.
Stand-mount speakers suggest the use of stands. I unscrewed my Dynaudio Contour 20i speakers (review here) from the sand-filled Dynaudio Stand 20 speaker stands and replaced them with the Emit 20 speakers. I didn’t screw them down because the Emit 20 speakers don’t have screw mounting points. Were I to purchase them for retention, then I probably would drill holes and screw them into place.
The stands have the speakers at the points of an equilateral triangle with respect to the listening position. Their baffles stood just on one metre from the rear wall, and I had the speakers toed in to point almost, but not quite, at the listening position.
Listening with the Dynaudio Emit 50 loudspeakers
I ran these loudspeakers for a full fortnight for music, TV and movies – stereo mode only, so they were receiving whatever bass content was in the source – before really trying to listen properly. I’m not really much of a run-in kind of guy – except for loudspeakers. As electromechanical devices, once they start working the bending bits start doing their bending for the first time, and that changes them. Quality loudspeaker makers expect that, so they design for how they’ll sound after a fair bit of use.
But even during that fortnight, I was startled by the superb clarity, and obvious bass competence of the Dynaudio Emit 20 loudspeakers. In short, I was enjoying them right out of the box.
Now, though, it’s time to listen with real care. Sometimes I feel that some of my gear may not be quite in the exact financial/performance balance as the speakers I’m reviewing. But that wasn’t the case here. I think my Rega Planar 3 turntable with Exact cartridge, Moon 110LP V2 phono preamplifier, Schitt Audio Saga S preamp and Schitt Audio Vidar power amp proved to be excellent matches. Okay, so the Moon 280D streamer is a step up from the rest, but obviously that’s not going to limit the loudspeakers’ performance.
So, as I start I have Ultravox’s 1980 album Vienna spinning. This is one I bought back around that time – on vinyl of course – but I didn’t exactly wear it out from playing. It sounds solid – aside from lacking the deep bass that would be used with such music on a modern digital release – with little surface noise, only one or two clicks across the entire first side. The opening track “Astrodyne” opens with an insistent bell-like cymbal tap the occupies a healthy space at the centre of the sound stage. The drums kicked in with, I have to say, a marked sense of excitement, while the synth occupied a space from around the centre of the stage out to, and slightly beyond, the left speaker. Throughout the side the speakers continued to deliver this sense of excitement, with very strong clarity. It was easy to pick out every strand and element of the music.
Later I returned to the album, this time streaming via the 280D from TIDAL, basically to see if the digital version was an improvement. Clearly this music was of its time and place, since the digital version hasn’t received a high-definition rendering. And I have to say, the digital mix seemed flat and bland. Oh, it was smooth, and I think cleaner than the LP, but boring.
Why am I talking here about one version versus another of some music? Because the Dynaudio Emit 20 loudspeaker so clearly revealed what was going on.
Now, let’s move to some music where there’s no doubt, no argument about the recording quality: the title track from Anette Askvik’s album Liberty. The first thing that I had to wonder about with this is … were these really the Emit 20 speakers? Or had the Emit 50 floorstanders somehow snuck back into the room and replaced the standmounters? This track is full of unexpected detail, including some impressively deep bass. Really deep bass. And there it was, apparently undiminished by the smaller enclosures and single bass driver in each of them. Askvik’s voice hit her power notes, completely filling my room without stress or discomfort, all the while small percussive points of interest danced around to the sides and in front of and behind her. The saxophone was smooth, and what was a mere piano accompaniment had it plausibly in the room.
Amxmb’s “Hotel California” cover is a live number … apparently, since the title has appended to it “Live at the Underground”. It could as well have been a first-class studio recording. Again, there was that superb sense of presence, and a clear sense of everything in aural “view”, nothing veiled. Even the unusual phasing of the simple synth chords accompanying the voice came through, while the drum kit had real power.
So, we’ve been through highly produced 80s on vinyl, gorgeously high-fidelity work from a decade ago, and a magnificent live piece.
But I’ve used speakers – owned some – which are lovely listens with quality content, but horrible with regular stuff. So, time for a couple of challenging tracks.
First, Melanie’s “Lay Down (Candles in the Rain)”. A very strong female vocalist hitting some big, high notes, a massed supporting choir, late 1960s pop recording … what could go wrong? Well, nearly everything with many loudspeakers. I played the version from TIDAL, which is an MQA Studio version (still 44.1kHz, high resolution would have been wasted anyway).
I’m not going to say that these loudspeakers turned this into a high-fidelity demonstration masterpiece. Of course not. But the Dynaudio Emit 20 speakers were both revealing and restraining. I could hear every bit of the production, possibly microphone-induced, stress, in Safka’s voice. Yet the overall tonal balance, the solid underpinning delivery of the bass guitar, and the precise separation of every element of the music made this powerful song sound better than tolerable. That’s what I meant by “restraining”.
Next, “Eleanor Rigby”. Not The Beatles’ original version, but a cover. Well, we’ll get to that in a moment because I placed the CD on which it appears in the CD transport, and it started auto-playing the first track. And because this was the 1960s, two minutes later it started playing the second track. These were tracks I had always considered utterly unremarkable … I bought the CD for track 16 only. But played back through the Emit 20 speakers, they were pretty good. The smooth balance, and most of all the lack of restraint in the dynamic delivery of these speakers worked superbly with these naïve, uncompressed, Australian recordings.
But back to “Eleanor Rigby”, performed hard-rock, high-speed style by The Zoot in 1970. I cranked up the pre-amp, and with a couple of hundred watts per channel on tap, let the music rip. Wow, what a great performance. This is really raw stuff, just a step above garage band rock. And it sounded that way, just as it should, with the Emit 20 speakers imposing no character of their own over the sound, despite the extremely high playback level. The Schitt Vidar amp is good for more than 130 watts into eight ohms, and over 200 watts into four ohms (I’ve measured it), so there was no shortage of driving power. Nor any shortage of output power from the speakers. I had the room pulsing as though it were 1970 again.
Ridiculous to sublime? You decide. After that I decided I should defer listing to the Schubert String Quintet (performed by the Alban Berg Quartet with Heinrich Schiff on the extra cello) until the next day so I could start with fresh ears. Which is what I’m now using as I sit before the five performers spread across a sound stage. The two violists, one very slightly left of centre, the other just a little further to the left, are clearly distinguishable from each other even as they both play sustained notes in unison. The cellos are perfectly balanced, with their upper registers simultaneously smooth but showing the non-tonal micro-vibrations of gut on string.
How about a little something recorded way back at the end of 1957: Nina Simone’s debut album (ultimately a huge seller, for which she received a total payment of $5,000). Simone is singing and playing the piano, and the recording is in stereo, and the performance is captured with remarkable clarity. Still, back in those days producers were working out what to do with stereo. In this case, Simone’s piano spends much of its time about halfway between centre and right speaker, the snare drum entirely in that speaker, Simone’s voice almost entirely in the left speaker. So, not particularly conducive for a realistic stereo image. What it lacks there, it more than makes up for in its magnificent liveliness. “Love Me or Leave Me”, playing back as I’m typing this paragraph, sounds as though there’s a very special cable connecting my audio system directly to a mixing desk in another time and place as Simone and band are performing.
To finish up, I pulled out the 2015 Steven Wilson remix of Yes’ Fragile on CD. Control over possible sibilance in Anderson’s vocals? Yes. Bruford’s inventive drumming? Absolutely. Every little strike was easily discernible through the mix. But the best thing was a wonderfully open quality to the sound. But the kick drum was truncated in the bass, particularly noticeable of “Heart of the Sunrise”. It lacked the body I had expected from the music I had been listening to with these loudspeakers. What was going on?
So I pulled out the older 2003 CD and played the track from that. And there was the kick drum, with proper tonality. The whole mix has more bite than the remix, if a touch less clarity. But the bass drum sealed the deal for me. I’ll be sticking with the old one.
Is that a heresy? (I have quite a few Steven Wilson remixes of this and that. I’ve previously assumed that they’re “better”, subject only to vague worries about the effect that passage of time may have had on the original analogue tapes. Maybe I’d have to be a bit more analytical about these.)
A quick measurement
I ran three quick measurements of bass output. Note, none of these are representative of the overall frequency response of these speakers. I measured things up very close to minimise room effects. First, here’s the output from the woofer, measured dead centre front from a few centimetres away:
You’ll see that the output peaks at 110 hertz and then rolls away gently to be down by around 3dB at around 65 hertz.
Now, let’s look at the output measured up close to the rear port (ignore the relative level; they were subject to microphone placement and the microphone gain adjustments):
This was interesting, with solid output from 30 hertz to 60 hertz. That explains the strong bass performance.
Measured with the microphone close to the side of the enclosure, about halfway between port and woofer, we get this:
That dip around 40 hertz seems to be some kind of destructive interference, determined by the relative position between microphone, woofer and port. But again, this shows a solid performance down to around 30 hertz.
You know, as described above, I switched out my Dynaudio Contour 20i speakers for these ones for the purpose of this review. My speakers sell for more than five times the price of the Dynaudio Emit 20 speakers. And at times, there, I was thinking that perhaps I should have saved a few thousand dollars and bought these ones instead.
Once I had restored the Contour 20i speakers to their stands, screwed them down, and run through the test music I’d used to test the Emit 20 speakers, I was assured again of their superiority. But there’s definitely a case of diminishing returns. Are the Contour 20i speakers five times better than the Emit 20 speakers? Hell no. Twice as good? Well, now we’re getting into questions that are very hard to adjudicate. So let me end with this: the Dynaudio Emit 20 loudspeakers are simply amazing value for money. And if you buy them, you’re going to have to spend a great deal more money if you ever want to upgrade.